It was a fact made much of last week that the match against Montenegro at Wembley was the 1000th ever England game. What was much less dwelt upon was the fact that 751 of those games have been in this season alone. Or does it just feel that way?
Still, it seems we’re now officially done and dusted for a while, and Gareth Southgate won’t be knocking on the door and asking if he can borrow some of our excellent young talents now until (put it in your diaries) 28 March. I think we can all be quietly grateful for that.
At the end of any international break, there are a few things you hope to see. First of all, you hope to discover that all the players you generously loaned out for these risky and largely needless adventures all over the world have come back uninjured and fresh and focused on the serious business of facing, say, Manchester City away from home.
Check, in so far as I can tell.
Secondly, if your team had been busy assembling an impressive run of consecutive league victories stretching back to September and numbering six in total, in a patch of form that had seen only one defeat in 11 games in all competitions, then you hope that your players' rhythm and general sense of mission and togetherness has not been too badly interfered with by this imposition.
We’ll see on Saturday, I guess
And thirdly (at the risk of seeming greedy), you can also hope that you still have the same manager that you had when the international break started and that your owner hasn’t got bored twiddling his thumbs in the meantime and got rid of him. Check, obviously, in our case – though not, it seems, in the case of one of our north London neighbours.
It’s funny because the general assumption seemed to be that if anybody in north London was going to be dropped through a trap-door during this international break, it would be Unai Emery at Arsenal. But no. Perhaps you saw this in the media (it has been quietly mentioned in one or two outlets over the past 24 hours or so), but if not, then let me break it to you: Mauricio Pochettino has been sacked by Spurs and replaced in a flash by (of all people) Jose Mourinho, formerly of this parish.
So we were yesterday exposed to pictures of Jose smiling while holding up a Tottenham Hotspur shirt, a sight which really could have led to some highly conflicted feelings for all of us, if we hadn’t already seen him holding up a Manchester United shirt, and if we hadn’t all learned to be quite mature about this sort of thing by now.
Nevertheless, my money would have been on Jose eventually taking one of the big jobs, so I suppose it seems reasonable to wonder: what drew him to Spurs? Perhaps it was the length of the bar (pictured top) in the new stadium that swung it for him (it’s the longest in football, you know), and that novelty press-down beer-pouring system, about which I, for one, don’t feel I heard anywhere near enough back when Spurs’ ground was finally opened to the public.
But whatever it was, I’m glad to see Jose back. We’ll always owe him some reverence round these parts and it made me feel a little sad in recent weeks to see him doing punditry in a television studio. That’s all very well for the likes of Roy Keane and Gary Neville, but for someone with as gilded a record of attainment as Jose Mourinho, it just seemed demeaning to me, and a waste of talent.
Also, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would be disputing Daniel Levy’s contention yesterday that Spurs have got themselves a serial winner. Okay, so Spurs are 14th in the league at the moment, and 20 points off the top. But I don’t think even the club’s biggest nay-sayer would suggest that the bottom half of the top 10 wasn’t still very much a possibility in 2019/20 – or maybe, looking longer term and allowing the new man the opportunity to build something, which one sincerely hopes is the plan here, in 2020/21 or 2021/22.
I think it’s a smart move on Jose’s part, too, after the doubts raised by the end of his tenure at United. Yes, it’s Spurs, and Mourinho did once say that he could never manage there because he loves Chelsea fans too much. But people in football say all sorts of things in the throes of passion and it makes no sense to hold them to it. And yes, the role could seem to be below the level where Jose would presumably expect to be pitching himself. But the fact is, the best managers do this when they hit a rough patch: they drop down a division, take stock and attempt to gather themselves, with a view to working forwards from there.
I, for one, wish Jose well on the road to recovery in north London, and sincerely hope that we eventually see him back managing at the top of the game very soon.